Saturday, August 12, 2017

Books that give a historical overview of tabletop RPGs

I am too old to now enjoy tabletop RPGs. I don't have it in me anymore to suspend disbelief and or even have the time and interest to devote to it. However, I remain interested in the hobby from a distance and can be, when I'm in the right mood, nostalgic about the good old days in the early 80s when RPGs were new and exciting.  

A generation later, enough time has passed for more books out there that are giving the hobby an historical overview and not just "let's celebrate 40 years of D&D" coffee table book kind-of-thing.

I have several books in physical hardcopy that are not yet on Kindle..

as well as one on my Kindle.

Lawrence Schick's Heroic Worlds

My first foray into these types of books was back in the mid 1990s, with Lawrence Schick's encyclopedic-ish Heroic Worlds.

While there was some discussion by key players, what I loved about this book when it came out was the listing of every 1980s RPG and supplement (and every edition of such) with a brief description for each.

A typical page in Heroic Worlds:

What was great about this when I got this in the 1990s was it was a perfect source at the time for my collection mania of getting 1980s RPGs that I never owned. It was very synchronistic for my collection phase as when I got this book, being the late 1990s, it was also a time for the brand new ebay service to come along where people started to post their stuff on line.

For 1970s and 1980s collectors, I can't emphasize how useful Heroic Worlds is.

Rick Swan's The Complete Guide to Role Playing Games 

was less encyclopedic and certainly a lot less meat-on-the-bones than Heroic Worlds. It is more light as it is a brief romp through major 1980s RPGs. However, this sort of book, along with Heroic Worlds, was the only book of it's kind in the 1990s that I came across that gave an overview of the hobby. For what it was, and though dated now, I found it enjoyable reading it in the 1990s and made me nostalgic for the previous decade's more care-free days.

A typical page:

Fast forward to the current time, I am seeing more and more meatier books on the history of RPGs, which I have not had time to read, but will do so soon, and hopefully, give a book review.

What I am not really interested in however, are the current spate of books that deal with the history of just D&D and AD&D..

I own those mid-1970s D&D books, and to be honest, they leave me cold and uninspired. They are even more plain than my 1980s games, which were plain with crude drawings to start with.

Besides, I personally was more of a sci fi RPGer in the 1980s, and not really into D&D and I really disliked TSR back then

Jon Peterson's Playing the World

Playing the World is the fist meatier history of RPGs that I've come across.

My D&D and TSR curiosity itch, if any, was scratched in Peterson, as he describes how insurance salesman Gygax modified Chainmail and traces the step by step inspiration for D&D back in 1974. He goes into depth about Gygax and how it all came about. I highly recommend this book to those interested in the history of the tabletop RPG hobby.

If I ever have time to read this again, I will give a more in-depth book review.

Shannon Appelcline Designers and Dragons.

On my reading list is Designers and Dragons, by Shannon Appelcline. It seems to be a series of four volumes, focusing each on RPGs of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the 2000s.

I might get the 1970s volume, if it comes out in Kindle, and if there is some discussion about GDW and Traveller, but I am primarily interested in my heyday in the 1980s.
I remember in the 1990s being dismayed at the bizarre titles that were coming out like Vampire the Masquerade and such, and have no desire to read up on that.

This grumpy old man also can't relate to RPGing in the 2000s as well, so I'll pass on that volume.

Anyways, I got the 1980s volume and it looks as interesting as Peterson's book.

Some of the titles in the book seem to echo my observations back in the 1980s about the RPG. Flipping the book just now to take a photo for instance, I see there is a sub heading called "The End of TV RPGS: 1986-1989"...

Being a big FASA Star Trek fan, as well as playing WEG's Star Wars, precisely in those years, I too noticed there were not many TV based RPGs after that. Like I said, it got less TV based and more weird after that. Already I am impressed and I haven't even read it yet.

Anyways, I look forward to reading the 1980s volume of Designers and Dragons and will give a book review hopefully in the near future.


  1. Very interesting. I've become increasingly nostalgic about those games that I "grew up" with, and will have to do some exploring in this area.

  2. I'm holding out for the first book to review and discuss the RPG review books that have now been published. It appears a potential author already has much to draw upon!